Research – HEALS

The TCEEE provides investigators access to core facilities and cutting-edge environmental health methodologies through three core facilities:

Phenotyping and Environmental Modifier Facility Core (PEMFC)

Identification of the role of environmental factors in disease requires accurate, age-appropriate phenotyping (characterization of traits) and comprehensive evaluation of factors that may modify disease risk. The Phenotyping and Environmental Modifier Facility Core (PEMFC), under the direction of Dr. Rosalind Wright, provides Center Members access to expert consultation services and state-of-the-art equipment necessary for clinical phenotyping and quantification of health and developmental outcomes across the lifespan as well as the measurement of modifiers of chemical environmental toxins. The PEMFC provides research support for the selection of age-appropriate, valid, reliable, low burden instruments to measure health and disease across the lifespan with particular focus on critical periods (pregnancy, infancy, early childhood, adolescence). Priority health outcome areas include: neurodevelopment/behavior, obesity, asthma, allergy, endocrine, renal, and cardiovascular phenotypes.

The PEMFC also facilitates translational research aimed towards understanding the impacts of interactions between chemical toxicants and environmental modifiers such as psychological stress and other social determinants and nutrition across the lifespan.  A related focus is on elucidating the mechanisms underlying health inequities in our local communities and globally.

The scope of responsibility for the PEMFC includes:

  • Maintaining and providing access to adult and pediatric health assessments including self-reports, observational data, and performance-based measures
  • Assisting Center Members with rigorous and appropriate protocols to use when applying such measures in research studies
  • Advising on data analysis that includes psychometric analyses including the use of multiple phenotypes in a phenomic or true multivariate analysis
  • Integrating environmental health with precision medicine initiatives at Mount Sinai
  • Support clinical colleagues with integration of environmental health data and electronic health record data to catalyze environmental health translational research across the Mount Sinai Health System

The Integrated Health Sciences Facility Core (IHSFC)

The Integrated Health Sciences Facility Core, directed by Manish Arora, BDS, MPH, PhD, is the transdisciplinary hub of the Center, providing access to equipment for the quantification of a wide range of environmental chemical exposures and molecular biomarkers of effect, as well as access to human study populations that can be leveraged by Center Members in their environmental health (EH) research. The IHSFC encourages research that moves beyond the assessment of the toxicity of single chemicals in isolation to an exposomic approach that considers the totality of the environment, the context of exposure (e.g. nutrition/social environment, sex, age), and the complex interactions among these factors that ultimately predict our health. To achieve this, the IHSFC develops cutting-edge methodologies that allow for reconstruction of dose and timing of past exposures such as tooth and hair-based biomarkers or exposure and effect, and satellite-based remote air pollution and temperature sensing.

The IHSFC supports three subcores:

  • Exposure Assessment Subcore: Key functions of the IHSFC are to analyze standard exposure biomarkers (e.g., hair mercury, urinary BPA) and to develop novel biomarkers of exposure, e.g., ICP-MS in tandem with laser ablation as a tool for two-dimensional element mapping in tissue, pioneered by Dr. Arora. When applied to teeth, this biomarker reconstructs an individual’s historical exposures to metals, which is already revolutionizing case-control studies of common diseases (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, ALS). In addition, the IHSFC now offers exposure modeling including satellite remote sensing air pollution measures and built environment variables (green space, walkability etc).
  • Molecular Biomarker Subcore: Provides resources for the study of key mechanistic pathways of effect for chemical exposures including epigenetic and mitochondrial biomarkers under the leadership of IHSFC co-Leader Jia Chen, PhD, a leading expert in environmental epigenetics.
  • Population Access Subcore: Led by Karen Wilson, MD, this subcore provides deidentified data from patient populations across a variety of clinical subspecialties as well as access to the Center’s large number of well-characterized, NIH funded longitudinal cohorts that can be leveraged by Center Members as platforms for transdisciplinary research.

The Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Core

The Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Facility Core (BBFC), directed by Chris Gennings, PhD, supports analysis of environmental health/toxicology data and creates new data analytical methods for complex mixtures. The core spans 3 departments/centers (the Center for Biostatistics, the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and the Department of Genetics and Genomics) and provides expert consultation in environmental biostatistics and environmental bioinformatics as well as high-dimensional database management. This collaboration leverages the expertise of the Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, which provides state-of-the-art services in the computing and analysis of “omic” data. The BBFC models complex exposure and phenotype data generated by Center Members across a wide variety of study types (basic, clinical, epidemiologic) while focusing on developing methods to better address our Center’s research themes (multiple exposures/mixtures, stress-chemical interactions, and sex specific effects of environmental exposure. The BBFC offers standard data analytic services as well as complex statistical methods and study designs needed to analyze the high-dimensional data that arise in much of the Center’s work. For example, our Center’s unique core facility services, such as the tooth biomarker that reconstructs past chemical exposure, require novel data analytical approaches that harness the full potential of these innovative measures. Core faculty and staff provide statistical and bioinformatics training for postdoctoral fellows working on environmental health sciences (EHS) related projects.

The aims of the BBFC are to:

  • Ensure that Center projects are grounded in sound biostatistical/bioinformatics principles and use state-of-the-art methods for design and analysis
  • Conduct mission-related biostatistical/bioinformatics methods research for further quality assurance of all research and data analysis methods
  • Assist in the training of biostatistical/bioinformatics principles and analysis methods to Center investigators, fellows and post-doctoral trainees.